Also See: Major Cities in Libya
Unlike other countries around the world that are experiencing similar, volatile political situations, Libya has conducted a relatively recent census within its own country. That nationwide survey was carried out in 2006 and the findings make for interesting reading.
Latest Libya Population Data
At the time of the 2006 Libyan census, it was confirmed that 5,670,688 people were living in the country. That represented a significant rise from the findings of the previous census of 1995 which returned numbers of 4,405,000. The annual growth rate between these two surveys was therefore 2.3%.
It’s difficult to assess the accuracy of more recent estimates, largely from organisations outside of Libya, but they tend to indicate the population is growing at a steady pace. The CIA World Factbook estimates that the Libya Population in 2012 was 6,733,620.
Based on the CIA’s estimate, Libya is therefore the 101st largest country in the world.
Largest Cities in Libya
The largest city in Libya is Tripoli, which is also the nation’s capital. There are a number of widely different estimates of its population, however. Precise figures are difficult to come by – I’ve seen estimates ranging from 1.1 to 2.2 million, but the most common suggested figure seems to be around the 1.2 million mark.
Libya's second and third largest cities are Benghazi (pop around 650,000) and Misrata (pop around 300,000).
Libya's stark north-south population divide
In terms of total surface area, Libya covers 1.77 million square kilometres (685,000 square miles) and this makes Libya the 17th largest nation on earth. However, its population density is one of the world’s lowest – with only 3.6 people living in every square kilometer of Libyan territory (9.4 people per square mile) Libya is the 185th most densely populated country in the world (of 192 countries in total).
Population density varies dramatically between two main areas of Libya. In the fertile Northern coastal strip, population density is much higher than the countrywide average – around 50 people per sq km. Elsewhere, though, desert reigns, and people are far more widely dispersed – less than one person on average in each square kilometer.
Libya in many ways mirrors Canada when it comes to population density. Whereas Libya’s population is concentrated in a narrow northern strip, Canada’s is concentrated in a narrow strip along its southern border with the United States. Co-incidentally, both Libya and Canada have almost identical country-wide population densities.
Libya Population History
There have been eight official censuses carried out in Libya and they have been sporadic in their timing. The first survey took place in 1931 and, with rounded figures, it confirmed that there were 704,000 people living here at the time. The next census took place in 1936 and this revealed an impressive 20% increase, taking the Libya population up to 849,000.
There was a significant gap in records from 1936 to 1954 when it was confirmed that Libya’s population had climbed above one million for the first time. The following censuses took place in 1964, 1973, 1984, 1995 and 2006 respectively and have shown sustained growth.
Ethnicity, Religion and Language in Libya
Data on ethnicity and religion in Libya is not well defined.
The best high level data on Ethnicity seems to be from the US State Department, which records that 97% of Libyans are of mixed Arab-Berber descent. The remaining 3% is made up of a wide mix of ethnic groups, including small groups of Tuareg and Toubou in the south of the country, Egyptians, and a number of small groups of European descent, notably Greek and Italian.
The vast majority of Libyans are Sunni Muslims, but the country also has a few other smaller groups. Christians number around 100,000 – made up largely of 60,000 Egyptian Copts and 40,000 Roman Catholics. The 2006 census also recorded that 0.3% of people in Libya are Buddhists – largely workers from Asia – which makes Libya the largest centre of Buddhism in Northern Africa!
Libya used to have a substantial Jewish population, but this has reduced to nothing over the course of the 20th century.
Modern Standard Arabic is spoken by 95% of Libyans and is the most widely used language in Libya, although many different dialects are in use around the country. Around 300,000 people speak one of a number of varieties of the Berber language. Italian, a legacy of Libya’s colonial past is still spoken by some, mostly elderly, Libyans.
The life expectancy figures for Libya have increased dramatically over the years and have certainly been partly responsible for sustained growth of population numbers as a whole.
Back in 1950, it was claimed that the average life expectancy of Libyans was just 52.9 years (51.9 for males and 53.9 for females), and this has increased steadily since. The CIA World Factbook reveals that, in 2010, life expectancy within the country had grown to 80.0 years overall which was split between 79.7 years for males and 81.9 years for females.
The future for Libya
Given the sporadic nature of Libyan censuses, and the uncertainty caused by the recent revolution, the timing of the next nationwide survey is a matter of some conjecture. What is clear is that the overall picture within the country is one of steady population growth and it looks set to stay that way for some time to come.